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Mismatched Priorities Stymie Cooperation on Migration between Europe and the Maghreb
Press Release
Thursday, March 3, 2022

Mismatched Priorities Stymie Cooperation on Migration between Europe and the Maghreb

WASHINGTON — The European Union and its member states over the past 25 years have increasingly relied on cooperation with the Maghreb states of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to address shared transnational challenges ranging from border security to irregular migration and drug trafficking. While cooperation on counterterrorism seems to have produced results, the impact of European initiatives to reduce irregular migration flows from the region is less evident, a new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration finds.

The report, The Challenge of Coordinating Border Management Assistance between Europe and the Maghreb, examines the border security situation within the Maghreb and the efforts of the European Union and its member states to address challenges stemming from a complex migration picture and differing perspectives and policy priorities of Maghrebi and European policymakers. It offers lessons and recommendations as Europe commits new resources to build Maghrebi state capacity to reduce irregular migration and address border security challenges such as transnational terrorism and human, arms and drug smuggling.

Several programs offering training, equipment and development assistance, including the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, have been implemented over the years with little apparent effect on migration flows from the region. In fact, in 2017, migration from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to Europe rose substantially, and continued at high levels in 2020 and 2021 despite the onset of the pandemic, writes report author Matt Herbert, research manager for the North Africa and Sahel Observatory at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The incomplete results are in part due to the different perspectives on irregular migration held by European and Maghrebi policymakers, the report finds. While European governments face immense political and public pressure to curb irregular migration, Maghrebi governments are more ambivalent about the issue. They view irregular migration as less of a security threat, instead seeing it as a means for their populations to access better economic opportunities, especially during times of social unrest. As a result, security agencies have adopted a two-level approach, engaging in some highly visible enforcement efforts intended to indicate action to international partners while quietly adopting a far more nuanced and pragmatic approach when dealing with irregular migrants or commodity smugglers who play important roles in many local communities.

“This political will—and the importance of semiporous borders to domestic political constituencies—is the most important factor shaping border security in the Maghreb, and the one to which the European Union and its Member States seem least attuned,” Herbert writes.

“If engagement is to be productive and sustainable for both the Maghreb and Europe, there is an urgent need to develop approaches that are strategic, predicated on addressing underlying drivers of border insecurity and that recognize political exigencies linked to border issues,” the report concludes. “Ultimately, these must cater not just to European needs, but also to the needs and interests of governments and citizens in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.”

Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/border-management-europe-maghreb.  

And for more of the Transatlantic Council’s work on international cooperation managing migration and borders, click here.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.